How to ship internationally and still save money

No one likes change, but the logistics behind international shipping can be just as easy to navigate as domestic shipments once you know the rules.

Mon May 11 15:20:00 EDT 2015

When businesses are growing and succeeding, there always seems to be a similar barrier: expanding globally. I’ve worked with more business owners than I can count who just don’t want to go the extra mile (pun intended) and expand their markets internationally.

There are various reasons entrepreneurs hesitate before taking the global leap. For one, there’s a popular myth that shipping across borders significantly changes the status quo. Yes, no one likes change, but the logistics behind international shipping can be just as easy to navigate as domestic shipments once you know the rules.

An easy way to get your feet wet is to take a single product and start selling on an established international marketplace like eBay. For any ecommerce business, I suggest starting slowly and first deciding which products and countries blend best for your business.

Packaging your items in boxes, when every ounce makes a difference, is not always the best choice. Boxes are most important for heavy parcels or delicate items. For smaller items, consider using bubble-lined envelopes. They are available in paper, vinyl and practically indestructible Tyvek®. Bubble envelopes come in a wide variety of sizes and weigh considerably less than a box. As an extra precaution, wrap your items in bubble wrap or use packing peanuts for added protection.

Shipping Choices

For global commerce, the USPS® offers four simple options (listed below from the most economical to the top of the line). Free packaging (envelopes and boxes) is available on the USPS site for Priority Mail International® service and above. Keep in mind, if your package delivery is time sensitive, it is worth considering using the mode of transit that provides speedy delivery. The U.S. post office gives delivery estimates for all shipping services, but once the package arrives at customs in the recipient’s country, the package is that at their discretion for processing.

  • First-Class Mail International®: My go-to method of shipment. Costs are $6.55 when postage labels are printed electronically. Maximum height, length and width are a generous 38 inches (42 inches for rolls or tubes) and the package can weigh up to four pounds. The USPS® does not give delivery estimates for the lowest level of service, but the most a package has even taken for me is 14 days (mostly due to customs inspections on the recipient’s end). You may send a package up to $400 in value, but for better tracking and insurance, I recommend upgrading to the next level of service.
  • Priority Mail International®: When a package is over $100 in value (my personal decision), I use this service. With a six to 10 day delivery estimate, these packages can be insured and tracked. For this class of service and above, the post office offers free Flat Rate boxes. Medium and large Flat Rate boxes may hold up to 20 pounds of product; small Flat Rate boxes and envelopes can only hold up to 4 pounds. To most countries, you may send up to 70 pounds in a single parcel, and in most cases you can track the package right up until it’s delivered. Pricing starts at $29.95 online.
  • Priority Mail Express International®: Want it there fast? Priority Mail Express International delivers your package within three to five business days (there may be customs delays). Free boxes and envelopes are available too. Generally you won’t have to purchase extra insurance, because this class of service includes $100 of insurance for documents and $200 for merchandise loss or damage to most destinations, and your package is trackable in most cases. International packages can be shipped for as little as $35.35 when using electronic labels.
  • Global Express Guaranteed® (GXG®): Rivaling the service you would expect from major air carriers, this service delivers your package within one to three days. The USPS® partners with FedEx® to reliably and quickly deliver your package to more than 180 countries. Date certain delivery is backed with a money-back guarantee. Insurance up to $100 is included and the post office will give you free envelopes.

Online Options

There are other choices of course, including online shipping and mailing solutions, which add a level of convenience and efficiency if the needs of businesses of any size, including home-based. In choosing a solutions, it is important to consider those that offer you the option of printing stamps from the USPS® and barcode-compliant shipping labels, and, of course, ensuring they are a trusted provider.

Online postage solutions offer a lot of advantages to busy business owners. For one, it’s convenient. You never run short of proper postage and you don’t have to fight traffic or long lines at the post office.

If you find the right solutions, you can save money, as well as track and monitor your shipping costs (which really comes in handy if you mail from different offices or locations). Perhaps most important, you want a solutions provider that offers easily accessible customer support.

In my next post, I’ll delve deeper into logistics and give you more information on how to save money on shipping insurance. There will be tips on how to make your package safely breeze through customs and what items you shouldn’t be shipping overseas.

Marsha Collier is the go-to expert for ecommerce and customer service. She’s the author of more than 35 books in the “…for Dummies” series, including the best-selling “eBay for Dummies” as well as titles in the areas of social media and customer service. Marsha was named among the Forbes Top 10 Influencers and hosts the popular #Custserv weekly Twitter chat. Collier travels the country, meeting with and counseling small business owners to help them maximize their online selling and develop ways to leverage social media in order to offer better customer service.